On Social Deniability

Recently the legislature of Indiana passed a bill known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which governor Mike Pence has signed. The content of the legislation by the most widely held understanding (by both supporters and its opposition) suggests a state enshrined right of businesses to reject potential customers on the basis of religious disagreement. Naturally, a storm has erupted about this, and I’m driven to provide thought on the matter. Here goes…

As a skeptic of government existing at all, it’s quite natural that if questioned whether government should be able to require upon penalty of force that people broaden their market, my answer would be no. I’m obviously not a fan of those who would turn away business on such ridiculous and spitefully counterproductive (money is money, after all) grounds, and wholeheartedly support efforts at boycotting and otherwise shaming such establishments. This is simply because I prefer a society that frowns upon bigotry in all its forms. I’m for reaction against it short of state action because I do not buy into the Hobbesian case that without a centralized force wielding a club we will all collapse into a heap of Assholery and violence — after all, there’s plenty of that in the world we currently inhabit of states.

Speaking of the world of statism, within that there is one angle that in the course of discussions about discrimination over the years I’ve come to look at in another light. Take the reactions last time accommodations for an Other group in America were an issue: the fights against racial segregation. Blacks merely existing at some businesses was considered an act of defiance, of civil disobedience, but there was more than the owner to worry about. At the time, if blacks were in a place designated for whites only, then calling the police was available as a remedy to salve their open racism — “yeah, there’s a nigger at my table and he won’t leave!”, and along come the pigs, like it was natural. Cops, as we all know, are employed by local government, which means taxes pay their wages. Which means that the hypothetical gay couple dragged out of a photo studio or black person thrown out of Woolworths is footing the bill for their attackers.

Considering the justified libertarian critiques against being forced to pay for, say, military conquest, at the least isn’t the critique against this at home arguably understandable? I’m not saying you have to agree with it, I’m saying that, to my reading of situation, it isn’t far fetched. I’m still not enamored with the desire to do business with people who hate your very essence for reasons I’ve described before, but it’s there.

As for the talk by backers of such legislation about not wishing to do business with people who violate their beliefs, frankly I question how realistic such a principle even is. It’s 2015, think about the myriad transactions we take part in every day, and ask yourself how many people involved in them would pass your litmus test. Who would you be limited to interacting with if all money from those who disagree with something you care about is dirty? What would we be denying each other? Have these people ever thought it out?

Perhaps if one wished to really walk the walk, they could denounce the heathens, grab a few fellow travelers & go start a commune or something. But for as much as we gripe about society, most of us aren’t that brave. Sometimes we want to eat takeout.


About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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4 Responses to On Social Deniability

  1. I think two distinctions need to be made here.
    One is the distinction between individual conscience and corporate policy.
    The other is the distinction between refusing to serve a member of the public because of a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation, and refusing to support a religious ritual you don’t believe in.

    I think that an individual florist or baker or photographer has a right to refuse to support a gay wedding for the same reason that school child has a right to refuse to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

    Now if a corporation that owned a chain of flower shops or bakeries or photography studios had a policy of refusing to contribute to gay weddings or, for that matter, to the Church of Scientology, that would be different, because that would be the executives of an organization imposing their personal beliefs on members of the organization who don’t necessarily accept it.

  2. dmantis says:

    I don’t follow your distinctions. Your first doesn’t really make sense. No florist or baker is “supporting” the “religious ritual” as you put it. They are being paid for a service that they are performing. Period. Full Stop.

    Furthermore, these businesses are not some idealized vanguards of free enterprise. They have to get permits for building, occupancy, license of operation and a whole host of other state required regulations to conduct their operation. They benefit from taxes paid to the local jurisdictions to support police, fire and infrastructure. They are obliged (even forced) to obey these regulations and taxes. It follows they should follow equal access.

    If, as a business, they choose not to sponsor a SSM or support charities aimed at such, then fine. That is their prerogative. But access is the key.

    If left up to individual businesses based on “religious disagreements” then in small, rural areas where there is a singular predominant religious orientation, it is simply Jim Crow by Jesus.

    Your second is obvious. As I mentioned above, if a large corporation has a certain zeitgeist of support for certain movements or organizations against the personal feelings of their employees, those employees are free to move on. They also must be free to stay without suffering any sort of discrimination for their views.

  3. B Psycho says:

    There’s liquor stores run by Muslims. They seem to have figured out just fine that a business transaction isn’t a religious ritual…

  4. dmantis says:

    Exactly my point.

    In reality this is only a semi-veiled attempt at protecting the bigotry, racism and discrimination of any minority group currently in-vogue to stomp on.

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